Housing White Paper: 6 proposals we mustn't overlook
The introduction of the white paper recognised that “the symptoms of this broken [housing] market are being felt by real people in every community”. Sajid Javid even went as far as to admit that “relative to population size, Britain has had Western Europe’s lowest rate of housebuilding for the past three decades.”
In the early 90s, low and middle-income workers needed to save around 5% of their wages for 3 years for a deposit for their first home. Now, there would be 24 years of such savings.
Expectations were high ahead of the housing white paper this February, but did it deliver? Although the broad reforms outlined in the paper are for the purposes of a consultation, its direction does indicate several markers for change.
1) On paper, England’s housing delivery may become more ambitious
A set target to deliver between 225,000 and 275,000 homes every year is much more ambitious than the previous Conservative target, set in 2016, of 400,000 homes by 2020 – a mere 100,000 homes per year.
The proposals have already caused a stir in ‘Middle England’, which is a sign in itself that the housing delivery ‘Not in my backyard’ status quo is being challenged. Rather than the “small tweaks” that leafier areas of the country may prefer, Savid Javid has been determined to focus on “major, long-lasting reform.”
2) The government is more inclined to accept cross-party involvement
The white paper accepted that a cross-party approach to housing would be needed in order to “deal with the issue once and for all.” This could be one of the most important turning points in government policy in order to address a long-standing issue, which is not only affecting voters of the opposition but also their own.
A co-ordinated approach between the public and private sectors to deliver housing projects will also be up for discussion.
3) "More of the right houses in the right places, and we have to start now”
The sheer scale of issues in the English housing market has left little room to debate the types of houses that are needed. This has been particularly prevalent in the provision of homes for retirement living.
The government has earmarked a handful of development types, including ‘higher density’ building, i.e. high rise flats, homes around transport links and homes specifically for the rental market. Controversially, the 200,000 starter homes manifesto pledge has been scrapped, as has the requirement for developments to allocate 20% of all new sites to the starter home drive.
When questioned on how housing stock may be increased, a couple of decent long-term proposals did emerge: penalising councils who use dodgy assessments of housing need, and ways on how to bring in a range of different providers for contributions.
4) Is this the end of our ‘home owning democracy’?
The proposal has been criticised for its lack of ambition, however, what the paper does tell us is that potentially seismic shift is underway that could affect how future generations are housed and what we come to expect from the housing industry. We’re talking about the acceptance that Thatcher’s “home-owning democracy” isn’t realistic in these times.
A much greater emphasis has been placed upon building new homes specifically for rent, highlighted by the addition of a completely new affordable housing category: ‘affordable private rent’. The potential influx in build to rent properties could act as a housing lifeline whilst keeping high house prices that developers, the Treasury and the banks want intact. However…
5) Renters shouldn’t get too excited
The biggest news in the rental sector was the £3bn Home Building Fund, which is watered down to £1.5bn of new loans, a £525m Builders Finance Fund and £1bn Large Sites Infrastructure Programme which Build to Rent is lumped to.
Smaller, but previously unimaginable, measures include banning letting agent fees and longer tenancies for families. However, the crux is that these only apply to renters of new builds in the build-to-let sector, i.e. homes that haven’t been built yet.
Councils forming local housing companies, however, have been told that they cannot use these companies to evade Right to Buy, a scheme which has either been scrapped or may be potentially suspended by other devolved governments in the UK.
6) Three land announcements you might have missed
- The UK has now shelved the privatisation of the Land Registry. Instead, the government has made a commitment to full transparency on the ownership of land and land options.
- Secondly, local authorities may be granted additional powers of land disposal at less than ‘best consideration’ to speed up the process, alongside greater input in land assembly.
- Finally, ‘land pooling’ between local authorities and land owners, which is already a mainstream practice employed by countries like France, Spain, Germany and Australia, will also be reviewed.
The government has acknowledged that the UK’s biggest housebuilders are guilty of land banking, however, the measures within the white paper do little to release this stranglehold. The gap between the allocation of planning permission and when the houses actually appear is growing.
Voice your opinion
The Housing White Paper has divided industry and public opinion. But what do you think?
Book your ticket to the next Housing Delivery Conference on March 21st at London’s Cavendish Conference Centre.
We will hear the views of Central Government and Housing Association Chief Executives as well as those in charge in Local Authorities and several other senior industry experts. This is a chance to be fully updated on what is going on, accumulate some CPD and network with the leading figures in the industry.
This event is likely to sell out again so please book early to guarantee your place.